Exhausted; bone-weary; shattered - it sometimes seems there are nearly as many terms for tiredness as there are people suffering from it. It can be hard to know when it's down to the stresses and strains of modern life and when you need to seek help. Read on to find out what might be causing your symptoms, and how you can fight it.
Good news or bad?
On the up side, 70-80% of people who see their doctor about tiredness don't have a physical illness to account for it. On the downside, the tiredness is still real and you'll need to work on overcoming it with these top tips.
Physical causes of tiredness
Lots of illnesses can cause tiredness. Fortunately, many of them are easily treated. Along with tiredness, other symptoms might point you and your doctor in the direction of a treatable cause.
The cause: anaemia
Symptoms: often heavy periods; light-headedness/feeling faint
The cause: underactive thyroid
Symptoms: weight gain without eating more; constipation; dry hair and skin; feeling the cold.
Treatment: tablets taken for life, with annual blood tests to check your thyroid levels (more often until your doctor has found the right dose for you).
The cause: heart failure (your heart isn't pumping blood efficiently round your system). Symptoms: shortness of breath on exercising and lying flat; swollen ankles.
The cause: type 2 diabetes
Symptoms: feeling thirsty; needing to pass water often; weight loss; minor infections (type 1 diabetes can also cause all these symptoms, but they're likely to come on more quickly and be much more severe).
Treatment: diet and lifestyle changes; managing your weight; medication to control blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol
The cause: liver and kidney problems
Symptoms and treatment: depend on the cause. A simple blood test will flag up possible problems with either of these organs.
The cause: Chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME
Symptoms and treatment: tiredness is absolutely overwhelming, very different from 'normal' tiredness and not made significantly better by rest. It often gets much worse the day after doing too much, and doesn't improve for several days. Other symptoms include muscle pains, poor concentration and sleeping problems. Treatment depends very much on how severe your symptoms are and should be tailored to you.
Could your treatment be making you tired?
Lots of medications can cause tiredness as a side effect. Common culprits include strong painkillers; beta-blockers (used for heart problems); antidepressants; cancer treatments; and statins to lower cholesterol. The symptoms are likely to start when you start taking a new tablet. This kind of tiredness often settles within a few weeks, but if not your doctor can advise on alternative medicines which might suit you better.
We all need some pressures in life - otherwise we'd never bother to get out of bed! However, stress is defined as feeling that demands placed on you are more than you can cope with. When you're too stressed, your body is in a constant state of 'high alert' that makes it hard to function efficiently, and tiredness is a common symptom. Ask yourself:
Do you feel out of control or overwhelmed with the pressures of life?
Do you find it hard to concentrate or sleep because of worries churning away?
Do you have trouble thinking clearly or making decisions?
Do you find it hard to wind down?
Do you find yourself dwelling on the negative?
Exercise your way out of tiredness - it may sound mad but it works!
If you're constantly exhausted, regular exercise will be the last thing on your mind. But regular exercise mobilises natural 'feelgood' hormones in your body which increase energy and improve mood. Studies show it works for tiredness due to depression and even for tiredness caused by cancer. The benefits last many hours after you stop exercising. Any form of exercise which makes you mildly out of puff will work. You may have to start slowly, but should be aiming towards half an hour five times a week. However, do check with your doctor - there are some conditions where exercise isn't recommended, at least in the early stages.
Take control of tiredness
The vast majority of patients I see with tiredness have taken on so much in their lives that they can't see a way out. Make it a priority to sit down and write an action plan. Look at the things that cause you stress one at a time, and think about possible solutions. Could someone share the burden? Could you work 'smarter' rather than harder? Do you need to learn to say 'no' when others pile more work on to you? For each stress, write down as many possible solutions as you can, then ask yourself which solution is realistic. You may be pleasantly surprised.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.